The 2019 edition of the Reef Photo and Video Anilao Underwater Photo and Video Workshop wrapped up last week. This was the 6th annual Reef workshop in beautiful Anilao, Philippines. Each year we’ve been treated to some of the best diving in the world, with an astonishing assortment of underwater creatures for subjects. Our host was the idyllic Aiyanar Beach and Dive Resort. Chris Parsons filed daily reports from Anilao about the Workshop.
Phil and Lee brought a case full of demo gear for our guests to try. From float arms to snoots, focus lights to lenses, they schlepped this gear through 12 time zones. Some of it is intended for being backup gear for the guests. While this trip has so far been doing great in regard to avoiding gear failure, we did have one person with not one but two Sea&Sea strobes that were not behaving. Phil & Lee were able to get them back on track thanks to the demo gear they brought.
I got to partake in a little demo gear as well, and I went straight for the Nauticam SMC-2. SMC stands for Super Macro Converter. The SMC-1 was the first underwater close-up lens designed from the ground up with optical design software, and it is a very powerful lens (meaning you can get very close to your subjects). I own a SMC-1 and absolutely love it. It’s been a staple of my macro shooting for over 6 years now. The SMC-2 is like an SMC on steroids. When I was the Nauticam rep, I wanted to call the SMC-2 the “Super Duper Macro Converter”. Ok, sure, that got voted down, and maybe marketing is not my ideal profession, but nevertheless, this lens really is quite powerful with unmatched image quality.
I’ve included some sample shots here. Because it is so strong, I don’t recommend it as your first closeup lens. But if you’ve masted the SMC-1 and want yet more magnification, this is your lens. The SMC series is intended for use on SLR rigs with lenses like the Canon 100mm macro (which is what I am shooting) or the Nikon 105mm. For compact and mirrorless shooters, Nauticam has the CMC series designed for those sensors.
Shooting the SMC-2 takes some practice. To start with, you need to get insanely close to your subjects. Doing this requires excellent buoyancy and a real concern for your personal space. You need to position yourself so that you won’t damage the lens by bumping into a rock, and you won’t damage your subject by smashing into it, and you won’t damage yourself by putting your hand or knee down on anything that wants to poke you. The water here in the Philippines is full of things that want to inject toxins into you, (blue ring octopus, cone snails, sea snakes and whole host of less dangerous but painful others like urchins, scorpionfish…..) so when I shot it this week, I was especially motivated to be aware of my surroundings.
As we talked about in the workshop, depth of field is dependent on two things, aperture and magnification. The depth of field is absolutely tiny with this much magnification. Focus needs to be perfect, which is not necessarily easy given moving creatures, current, steep slopes etc. But even before you get a chance to focus, just finding the subject can be difficult. Moving toward or away from the subject by even a few millimeters throws the image in the viewfinder completely blurry to the point that you can’t tell if you are too close or too far. It takes practice and patience just to find the subject in the viewfinder. Having a magnifying viewfinder (for stills) or a nice large monitor (for video) is critical.
I had a lot of fun with SMC-2. There were plenty of times when I missed the shot (and my exhaust bubbles carried away a string of expletives) but when I nailed a shot, it was amazing. I think for the serious super macro shooter, if you can swing having both an SMC-1 and 2 on your rig (with a flip adapter), you’ll have the ultimate super macro setup.
Today’s creature highlights: Nudibranchs and more nudibranchs, harlequin shrimp, a juvenile ribbon eel, and the largest sea snake I’ve ever seen.